With spectacular views over Coober Pedy, the Big Winch has been a popular attraction and meeting place for visitors and locals since it was built by Claus Wirries in the early 1970’s. A multi-denominational Easter sunrise service has been held at the Big Winch for years.
Before coming to Coober Pedy Claus worked on boats earning him one of his many nick names, the “Banana Inspector.” His first job here was cutting opal in Rienholt Lingdau’s shop located behind the site of the current IGA. He became an opal dealer buying and selling opal. This led to another nickname, the “Road Runner.” Claus had it painted on his car. A runner takes opal to market.
Claus had met Gabrielle in Berlin. They got married in Coober Pedy. Their wedding was a never-to-be forgotten event. Invitations were sent out with the note: “Don’t bring presents, bring timber.” Guests brought lengths of 2”x 4” and 3” x 4” board, one lot reportedly wrapped tastefully in toilet paper. The gifts were stacked on end like a tepee and later used to enlarge Claus’s tiny house.
The original Big Winch was blown over by a cyclone. Its twisted steel drum, on display, is witness to the power of the storm.
The car park was added in the early 1990s. The dirt was hauled up the hill from the Old Timers Mine. Two old, disused dugouts are buried beneath it.
Claus was an opportunistic man who had an eye for things that would appeal to visitors. Pictures of his trademark bowler hat and the dachshunds who had their own dugout kennel must feature in travel diaries around the world. Claus was a man of vision, a persuasive man who helped many people but he over-reached and, in the end, had make a quick departure from town.
The Big Winch played an important role in the development of Coober Pedy’s tourist industry.
The Steel Tree
The steel tree on the hill overlooking the town with the Big Winch was created by Bob Amorosi to give his kids the experience of a tree in a town that, at that time, had no trees.
The twisted metal used to construct the tree, resulting from a freight truck fire around 200km south of Coober Pedy.
On-board with the steel pipes were quite a number of full LPG cylinders bound for Coober Pedy.
A fire on the truck, eventually ignited the gas and the extreme heat twisted the pipes making them unsuitable for sale.
Bob had Joe Diosisio, a boilermaker working for him at the time, cut and weld the bits together to his design. The tree originally stood in the Amorosi yard (Coober Pedy Trading Company), on Seventeen Mile Rd. It had roots to hold it firm and a wheel hub welded on top.
That hub was a challenge. The kids used to try to reach and sit on it but, as far as Bob’s son Eugene recalls, no one ever did. The attempt alone was dangerous.